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Your Position: Home - Automobiles & Motorcycles - How to Choose Brake Parts?

How to Choose Brake Parts?

Brake pads are one of the more important but also most misunderstood and mysterious parts of your car. They have the undeniably important task of safely slowing down your car no matter what the speed or situation may be. Browsing the pages of FCP Euro’s website will bring up a vast array of brake pads and compounds. You’ll often see terms like ceramic, organic, and semi-metallic and be unsure which to choose. Questions like which offers the best stopping power or lowest dust, and which brake pads last the longest are common? Well, wonder no more as we explain the different brake pad compounds to help you know how to choose the best brake pads for your car.

 

 

Chances are, the brake pads that came with your car from the factory are an organic compound brake pad. In an organic brake pad, various organic components such as carbon, kevlar, glass, and rubber are bound together with a high-temperature resin. These OEM and Genuine brake pads are often called Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO) brake pads to differentiate them from cheaper organic pads that still use asbestos as a friction component due to the health risks associated with asbestos. 

Most brake pads that are not specifically labeled as semi-metallic or ceramic are organic brake pads. Because of the different mixes of different organic compounds, performance, price, and quality can vary significantly. The only real rule is that organic compound pads have less than 30% metallic content. 

An organic compound brake pad offers the driver sure stopping power, with a strong initial bite and quiet, smooth operation. This means that organic brake pads are less likely to squeak and squeal than some other types. Organic brake pads also tend to be fairly gentle on brake rotors, but the brake pads themselves wear out more quickly than other options. 

Like any BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or VW owner will also tell you, organic brake pad compounds tend to be very dusty, with the dark and sticky dust as evidence of the carbon and kevlar compounds used in these pads. Organic brake pads generally don’t work well over very wide temperature ranges and will lose stopping power quickly or “fade” once they get too hot. An organic brake pad is also more compressible than ceramic or semi-metallic compounds, which means they are more likely to feel soft or ‘mushy’ under heavy braking. 

If you are looking to maintain factory-like braking performance for a reasonable price and don’t mind the brake dust, organic compound brake pads are an excellent choice for many German car drivers. They’re more than likely the type of brake pads that your car came with from the factory. Many of the brake kits sold by FCP Euro include organic compound pads from OE suppliers such as Textar, TRW, ATE, and Pagid. These all offer genuine performance for a fraction of the price. 

Although organic brake pads are not as good in performance applications as a semi-metallic, there are performance-oriented organic brake pads. EBC YellowStuff, for example, is an example of a performance organic brake pad. They offer a strong cold bite and generally good performance with relatively low noise but produce a good amount of dust. However, when they are pushed beyond their operating range, such as in heavy track use, the brake pad will lose pedal feel, wear more quickly, and lose stopping power until it cools. 

 

What Are Hybrid & Advanced Organic Brake Pads?

Many of the popular modern performance brake pads could be classified as a new kind of pad that technically falls under an organic label due to its core materials but offers higher performance than a traditional organic brake pad. Many Hawk brake pads, for example, are comprised of their “ferro-carbon” compound. Depending on the exact formula, Hawk sport brake pads may have a mix of organic, metallic, and ceramic components to optimize daily performance, increase high-temperature performance, or reduce dust.

Another type of hybrid organic brake pad includes Para-Aramid compounds. Para-Aramid brake pads have a higher metallic content than typical organic pads, along with kevlar and Aramid-2, a synthetic fiber designed to replace asbestos. They tend to have very stable and consistent torque characteristics over a wide temperature range and further blur the line between what we think of when it comes to an organic pad. Stoptech Sport brake pads are one of the more popular Para-Aramid-based brake pads. 

Organic Brake Pad Advantages

Organic Brake Pad Disadvantages

Quiet operation (less likely to squeal)

Dusty (dark and usually sticks to wheels)

Strong initial bite for confident braking

Pads wear more quickly

Rotor-friendly - will not heavily wear brake rotors 

Narrow performance range; doesn’t like to be overheated

Strong value - usually less expensive than other compounds 

Traditionally has less pedal feel, but hybrid compounds are changing the rules

 

As you might assume from their name, semi-metallic brake pads have a much higher content of metal components in the brake pad material than an organic type brake pad. A semi-metallic brake pad is typically made of various metals, including copper, iron, steel, and graphite, and again, bound together with a high-temperature resin.

Thanks to their higher metal content, a semi-metallic brake pad offers a much less compressible brake pad material, which means a firmer pedal for the driver, especially in heavy braking situations. They can also offer much higher performance over a wider temperature range than an organic pad, making them ideal for performance use. Despite this, semi-metallics still typically offer strong cold-stopping power, making them one of the most versatile brake pads when it comes to high-performance streetcars. Semi-metallic brake pads usually offer an increase in brake torque and stopping power as temperatures increase up to their design limit.  

A side-effect of their higher braking power and higher metallic content means that semi-metallic brake pads are going to be harder on your brake rotors than an organic or ceramic compound. If you’re taking advantage of the FCP Euro Lifetime Replacement Guarantee and replacing your brake rotors under our lifetime warranty, this isn’t so much of a concern, but it is something to be aware of when it comes to service life.  

Similarly to organic brake pads, semi-metallic pads do tend to be fairly dusty, but the amount of dust can depend quite a bit on the exact brake compound and manufacturer. It’s also more likely for them to squeal or make noise, but occasional noise is usually an acceptable trade-off for those looking for maximum performance. 

Some of the best sports cars on the market come with semi-metallic brake pads, so if you own a high-performance Porsche, BMW, or Mercedes, a semi-metallic may be the best choice for you. The Ferodo DS2500 is a semi-metallic brake pad that is a true dual-purpose street and track-pad. If you have a highly modified hot-hatch like a VW GTI or daily driver that you also use for weekend track days or autocross, the DS2500 is one of the best choices around. 

Semi-metallic Brake Pad Advantages

Semi-metallic Brake Pad Disadvantages

Top performer - many high-performance and racing brake pads are semi-metallic

Harder on brake rotors than organic or ceramic brake pads

Wide operating temperature range, increased brake torque as temps go up

Dusty, usually falls between an organic and ceramic pad

Less compressible for better brake feel

More likely to squeal or make noise 

Excellent initial bite and cold performance

More expensive than organic brake pads

 

Ceramic brake pads are a relative new-comer when it comes to brake pad technology. Thanks to major players like TRW, ceramic brakes are fairly well-known and widely distributed today. Compromised mainly of ceramic materials, a bonding agent, and copper fibers, ceramic brake pads offer ideal performance on the street, with a few notable benefits over organic pad compounds. 

First, quality ceramic brake pads are typically firm in terms of compressibility, meaning that you’ll have a firmer brake pedal than an organic pad, similar to a semi-metallic. Secondly, ceramic brake pads are very long-wearing, and in normal use, drivers will see many more miles with a ceramic compound than either organic or semi-metallic ones. Lastly, because they’re so hard and long-wearing, ceramic brake pads produce very little brake dust, and whatever dust they do produce is very light in color and tends not to stick to wheels like organic and semi-metallic dust. Despite their durability, ceramic brake pads are very rotor-friendly and help to extend your brake service intervals.

Ceramic pads also tend to have very little to no noise at all. Because of their lighter materials, the resonance that we hear as squealing with other compounds is at a higher pitch, therefore, out of our hearing range. Basically, humans just don’t hear it. 

Of course, as with anything, there are a few downsides to ceramic brake compounds. While ceramic brake pads tend to have a fairly wide operating range, they usually aren’t ideal as a high-performance or racing brake pad and aren’t as durable if you push them beyond their maximum operating range. They also can have less bite and poor cold performance, meaning that when you first apply the brakes, especially in cold weather, you’ll notice less immediate stopping power. 

Ceramic brake pads are also the most expensive to produce, which brings us to another talking point: Perhaps more than any other brake pad compound, the quality of a ceramic brake pad is extremely important. Many of the lowest-cost generic options on the market may offer significantly less stopping power than a quality ceramic compound like a TRW, Bosch, or Akebono brake pad. 

Ceramic brake compounds are a perfect choice for European car owners who want a very low-dust, long-wearing, and consistently performing brake pad.

 

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Ceramic Brake Pad Advantages

Ceramic Brake Pad Disadvantages

Extremely low dust, quiet operation

Typically more expensive

Long-wearing and durable

Weaker initial bite

Less compressible for better brake feel

Not ideal as a performance brake pad

Consistent stopping power over a wide temperature range

Low-quality ceramic pads offer low dust, but little stopping power (quality matters)  

Ultimately, the best brake pads for you really depend on what type of car you have and how you drive it. Are you interested in something that offers low-dust, consistent stopping, and long life for your daily commute? Are you looking for the lowest price, or do you want ultimate stopping power on the street or the track? By reviewing your ‘must-have’ features and benefits along with the characteristics of ceramic, organic, and semi-metallic brake pads, you should be able to find the perfect pad for your German car

If you have any questions about how to choose a brake pad for your car after reading, leave them in the comments section below. 

Your braking system is perhaps the most critical safety mechanism in your vehicle. But while you rely on brakes every day to help you safely get from point A to B, you probably don’t think about what’s actually happening when you press on the brake pedal. 

Here’s the basics of how the system works: when you step on your brake pedal, your car pushes pressurized fluid through its brake lines into a caliper at each wheel, where the brake pads are located. The brake fluid pushes the brake pads against a disc rotor in each wheel to slow it down, gradually bringing your wheels to a stop. 

In other words, your brake system turns your car’s kinetic energy into thermal energy through friction applied by the brake pads. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this critical component of your brake system and the pros and cons of each type — ceramic vs. semi metallic brake pads, for instance — to help you decide which is best for your vehicle and driving style.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BRAKE PADS

These days, drivers typically have a choice between three types of brake pads: ceramic vs. semi metallic vs. organic brake pads. That wasn’t always the case. The first use of brake pads goes all the way back to the 19th century. Bertha Benz — famous inventor and wife of Mercedes-Benz founder Karl Benz — is credited with creating the first brake pads out of leather for an early patent of their automobile in 1888.

Since then, the materials used to make brake pads have evolved with advances in technology. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 20th century, as drum brakes were increasingly replaced by modern disc brakes, that manufacturers began producing the ceramic, metallic and organic brake pads used today.

ORGANIC BRAKE PADS

The brake pads in disc brakes were initially made from asbestos, a heat-absorbing material well-suited for the wear and tear that brake pads take on. However, asbestos was discovered to be a highly-potent carcinogen, causing cancer in those with prolonged exposure. When these asbestos-based brake pads had worn down, they would release asbestos into the air for drivers to unknowingly inhale. Manufacturers realized asbestos wasn’t a safe compound to use in braking systems. As a result, organic brake pads — or non-asbestos organic (NAO) brake pads — were created to fill the gap.

Organic brake pads, which come standard on about 67% of new vehicles sold within the United States, are made of a mixture of fibers and materials such as rubber, carbon compounds, glass or fiberglass, and KevlarⓇ, and are bound together with resin. They tend to produce less dust than some other types of brake pads, such as metallic pads, and are available at a lower price point.

Unlike performance brake pads, which are primarily used in heavy and high-performance vehicles, organic brake pads generate a moderate amount of friction without much heat being present, making them suitable for drivers who use their cars for everyday driving and commuting. Organic brake pads also tend to be quiet and don’t put much stress on the brake rotors, which is a plus since brake rotors are often costly to repair or replace if damaged.

However, organic brake pads do have some disadvantages when compared to other types of brake pads. Organic brake pads can tend to wear out more quickly because of their composite nature, meaning they might have to be replaced more often. They also tend to function best within a smaller range of temperatures. They don’t perform as well as semi metallic brake pads in extreme weather or when they are being pushed too hard and overheat. Organic brake pads also have a higher compressibility level, which means the driver has to press on the brake pedal with more force to engage them.

CERAMIC BRAKE PADS

Ceramic brake pads are made from material very similar to the type of ceramic used to make pottery and plates. Ceramic brake pad material, however, is denser and considerably more durable. Ceramic brake pads also have fine copper fibers embedded within them, to help increase their friction and heat conductivity.

Since they were developed in the mid-1980s, ceramic brake pads have consistently increased in popularity for a number reasons:

  • Noise-Level: Ceramic brake pads are very quiet, creating little-to-no extra sound when the brakes are applied.
  • Wear & Tear Residue: Compared to organic brake pads, ceramic brake pads tend to produce less dust and other particles as they wear down.
  • Temperature & Driving Conditions: Compared to organic brake pads, ceramic brake pads can be more reliable in a broader range of temperatures and driving conditions.

Yet ceramic brake pads do have some limitations. Primarily, their cost: due to higher manufacturing costs, ceramic brake pads tend to be the most expensive of all brake pad types. Also, since both ceramic and copper can’t absorb as much heat as other types of materials, more of the heat generated by braking will pass through the brake pads and into the rest of the braking system. This can cause more wear and tear on other braking components. Lastly, ceramic brake pads aren’t considered the best choice for extreme driving conditions. If you’re facing very cold weather or an upcoming race and you’re choosing between ceramic vs. semi metallic brake pads, you’ll want to go with metallic.

SEMI-METALLIC BRAKE PADS

The final type of brake pad is the semi metallic brake pad. Semi metallic brake pads are different from fully metal brake pads in that they use fillers to create the pad compound instead of using 100% metal. Full metal brake pads are typically reserved for truly extreme braking requirements

Semi metallic brake pads are between 30% and 70% metal, including copper, iron, steel, and other composite alloys. These various metals are combined with graphite lubricant and other fillers to complete the brake pad. The metallic brake pad compounds available vary, each type offering their own advantages for everything from daily commutes to track racing.

For many drivers, especially those who value high-performance, the choice between ceramic vs. semi metallic brake pads is easy. Performance-driven drivers tend to prefer the metallic brake pads because they offer improved braking performance in a much more comprehensive range of temperatures and conditions. Because metal is such a good conductor of heat, metallic brake pads tend to withstand more heat while simultaneously helping braking systems cool back down more quickly. They also don’t compress as much as organic brakes, meaning less pressure needs to be applied to the brake pedal to affect stopping ability.

However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to metallic vs. ceramic and organic brake pads. Metallic brake pads tend to be noisier than their ceramic or organic counterparts, leading to a louder ride. Metallic pads also put more stress on the brake system, adding more strain and wear on the brake rotors. As far as price goes, metallic brake pads tend to fall somewhere between organic and ceramic pads. They tend to produce more brake dust than the other two varieties as well.

CERAMIC VS. METALLIC VS. ORGANIC BRAKE PADS: WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

So which brake pad is the best choice for you between ceramic vs. semi metallic vs. organic brake pads? It depends on your vehicle manufacturer recommendations and the ride you expect from your vehicle combined with your driving style. 

If you have a high-performance sports car, or at least drive your vehicle like one, you’re likely better off choosing semi metallic brake pads. On the other hand, if you do a lot of urban commuting, you might find a solid ceramic brake pad to be the better option. If you don’t put a lot of mileage on your vehicle, an organic brake pad might be the best, low-price option for your driving habits.

No matter which type you choose, have your brakes inspected and your brake pads replaced regularly. You’ll know your brake pads need replacement when you hear the squeal of the metal “tang” at the base of the pad as it comes into contact with the rotor. Tangs are built into all types of brake pads as an indicator of wear; if you hear it, don’t wait too long to get new pads. At that point, deciding between ceramic vs. metallic brake pads — or organic pads for a price-friendly option — is up to you.

Below is a simple table that illustrates some of the comparative differences between organic, ceramic, and metallic brake pads.

BRAKE PAD TYPE

ORGANIC

CERAMIC

METALLIC

Price

$

$$$

$$

Performance

Low

Medium

High

Noise

Low

Very Low

High

Wear & Tear On Brake System

Low

Very Low

Medium

How to Choose Brake Parts?

Ceramic vs. Metallic Brake Pads, What's the Difference?

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